Madhebhe in Mutoko
This week Kuda Nyaruwabvu, Zack Moon and I head North of Mutoko town. We are interested to know more about the current state of madhebhe, or what one might call the Buja version of matepe mbira.
Thus far we have acquired Hugh & Andrew Tracey recordings of madhebhe players Kadori and Karinungu (1933) Hodzi Katsukunya (1948 & 1949) and Jojo Kamwaza Charewa (1948, 1949 and 1969). We are not sure who is playing these days, as the latest recordings are from nearly 50 years ago and Kuda’s father, Partson Nyaruwabvu (whose madhebhe mbira sits in disrepair), says he has no knowledge of any current players or instrument makers in the Mutoko area.
We are hopeful still, motivated by the song “Ndashaya Andidenha,” which translates to I can’t find someone to provoke me. In 2008, B. Jakopo posted his version of this song onto YouTube, which was the first publicly available video of matepe/madhebhe/hera music on the Internet. Although the picture quality of a solo player is a bit pixelated, the sound of mbira, voice and drum that comprise the video’s soundtrack can be heard clearly. It’s a nice recording, but we have always wondered about the origins of this particular song and about B. Jakopo himself, who has yet to respond to the comments on his video (watch it here).
Needless to say, it was a good day in the ILAM archives when Zack came across a track called “Ndashaya Andidenha”. It was only a week before we left Grahamstown when he decided to search for the original reels that contained tracks selected for the Sound of Africa series. After hours of sifting through reel boxes Zack appeared from the cold storage room and confidently floated over to my workspace to report. “Guess what I found?”
Sure enough, Monday morning we had a new set of tracks in hand and were able to listen to Jojo Charehwa and family play their version of “Ndashaya Andidenha” on madhebhe, recorded by Andrew Tracey in June 1969. You can hear how the two songs are for the most part in the same mode, although B. Jakopo’s mbira is tuned about a minor third up from Jojo Charehwa’s.
ILAM Track# HTFT763-S2-S2C1. 1969. "Ndashaya Andidenha" by Jojo Charehwa (madhebhe) and family. Buja. Recorded in Charewa Village, Mutoko, Zimbabwe.
Now in Zim we spend the afternoon listening again, this time with the assistance of Kuda Nyaruwabvu who makes it possible for us to decipher and translate the Buja dialect. You can see in the translations below that the song is primarily about the speaker’s desire to start a fight with someone. Kuda explains that the lyrics shouldn’t be translated so literally, as they may be indirectly describing someone who is in earshot of the singer. In other words, “Ndashaya Andidenha”/“I am looking for someone to provoke me,” more likely refers to the actions and intentions of that other person.
The varied text of the Jojo Charewha version is a bit complicated to decipher as the layered identity of the story teller becomes tangled together with the multiple audiences he addresses. He appeals to the chief, speaks to the women singing and tells the story to those in attendance at that 1969 recording session in Mutoko. He acts as conductor to the group, asking others to clap their hands and ululate, while also embodying the story’s character by actually trying to insult people, saying, “if you mess with me” and “if you slack, I will, oh my mother…”
We learned from the writing on the reel box that this tune is actually a composition for madhebhe by Hodzi Katsukunya. This sort of thing is unusual, as the only songs from the ILAM collection of matepe/madhebhe/hera music that are labeled as “compositions” (as opposed to “folk” or “traditional,” as the labels go) are from the Mutoko area. Many of the compositions by Katsukunya and Charehwa, for example “Tsikidzi”/“Bugs” and “Mutambiro wehuku”/“The hen’s dance,” are humorous story songs for entertainment and aren’t as geographically widespread as some of the more common songs played for Mhondoro spirits, such as “Msengu”. This information helps to explain why we have not heard “Ndashaya Andidenha” recorded or played live on matepe or hera, and likely places B. Jakopo as a madhebhe player originally from somewhere around Mutoko.
Eager to know more about madhebhe, the three of us begin our journey by heading towards Charewa Village (pronounced “Charehwa,” but often spelled with no “h”) in search of Jojo’s relatives. We take to the usual dust roads with confidence this time because our destination is fairly close to Nyaruwabvu Village, only with a blue mountain standing in our path. We leisurely drive around the mountain and eventually come across a small painted metal sign that marks the turn-off to Charewa Village. We explain our interest in mbira to one of the neighbors, a retired soccer coach from Mutare, who attempts to phone several Charewa family members. There is no answer on the line, but Kuda takes his chances across the road and is able to find Mubaiwa Charewa, son of Jojo. The delightful old man invites us inside and we listen to some of his stories about his life as a builder, his experiences during the war and about his father’s music.
At some point I switch on a recording of Jojo Charehwa playing “Ndonda” from 1969 and Mubaiwa is captivated by the sound.
"Rinenge voice rababa vangu"/“It’s like the voice of my father.”
Still questioning, he says tentatively, “That is the voice of my father.”
Mubaiwa pauses to listen for a moment, then smiles and exclaims, “Ah, Sure!” letting out little bursts of laughter in between comments as if in disbelief. Still seated, he begins to move to the sound, explaining how he used to dance to this music at a time when he had a big belly because his grandmother loved him and fed him too much meat.
Kuda asks about the women in the recording and Mubaiwa carefully recalls the names of Jojo’s six wives in order of marriage: Gore (the first wife), Matibayisa, Fungisai Makombe (Mubaiwa’s mother), Emma Chinomona, Muje, and Kabiso. He explains that the Katsukunya and Charewa families are relatives by marriage and sends us on our way with directions to find the madhebhe player Kenneth Katsukunya, the brother of Hodzi.
Per Mubaiwa’s instructions, we find the turn off from the main road by a homestead lined with gum trees and come across Stanford Katsukunya and his father. Apparently news had not yet reached Mubaiwa that Kenneth is now late, but Stanford offers to take us to find the youngest brother who plays, Shorai Katsukunya. Our path from place to place becomes a blur at this point in the afternoon. I could blame it on the heat, but thanks a layer of dynamic grey clouds marching across the sky it is not so hot out today. A few hours earlier we had stopped at the TM store in Mutoko town where I ordered a take away lunch of sadza and beef stew. The beef was unusually tough, so I negotiated with Zack for half of his chili-flavored chicken. Afterwards, Kuda mentions that he doesn’t really trust the beef stew because the cows they slaughter at that place are “not so young” and need extra time to cook. Thus I might blame our fatigue on the old cow, but more likely it is just another long day of driving on dirt roads, across river beds and along winding paths lined with sharp cubes of black granite that aren’t meant to be roads at all.
By late afternoon we finally sit down with Shorai Katsukunya. Interestingly, the madhebhe we carry with us that belongs to Kuda’s father has the same design as the one Shorai is borrowing for the moment, which was made by a man of the last name Kativhu. The way the ends of the keys curl down, the shape of the sound board, the layout of the notes. It turns out that Kuda’s father’s uncle used to live nearby and play mbira here, so it is no surprise that the instruments were likely made by the same person.
According to Chaka Chawasarira the note that is used to tune, the one that really matters – top LH register, third from the right – is the key with which they bury a matepe player when they die (correspondence 6 Dec 2016). This particular note and its octave equivalent on the RH side of Kuda’s father’s mbira still seem to be in tune even after decades of not being used. The pitches match up to those same notes on Shorai’s mbira, suggesting they were once tuned together. It is probably a coincidence, but one can infer from the video of B. Jakopo playing “Andidenha” that the same note on his mbira also matches this pitch, even though the instrument itself appears to be a bit different in its construction compared to the ones here.
The first song that Shorai plays for us (by request, of course) is “Ndashaya Andidenha,” a song he knows well. I include a clip of this below, where you can hear Kuda’s voice in the recording quietly singing along. The feel of the song is there, even if the scale seems to be a bit different. This is probably due to the neglect of the instrument, as you can clearly hear Shorai state at the end of the video how the mbira needs to be tuned. He is fixated on this concern and mentions the tuning before and after nearly every song, but with no other options at hand he proceeds to play several short versions of “Andidenha” and “Msengu”.
In the video notice how Shorai pauses briefly in the beginning to explain that he does not need to look at the keys while playing because he knows the music well. Although this instrument is old and somewhat tattered, we are reminded by his statement that the sound is still very much alive in the hearts and minds of the older generation.
Back in the late 1940s when Hugh and Peggy Tracey first met the Katsukunya and Charehwa families, Peggy Tracey wrote of her experiences during one of the recording sessions. In this excerpt she describes the pumpkin gourd resonators, the sound and the musicians, madhebe players Hodzi Katsukunya, Jojo Charehwa, Jaji Kujarawanza, Homane Samatanda, Jana Charehwa, and Mako Nyarokokora.
ILAM Track# AC0150-AM3. 1948. “Donda Chawane Mauyo” by Hodzi Katsukunya (madhebhe), Bambu Sotora (hosho) and five others. Buja. Recorded in Charewa Village, Mutoko, Zimbabwe.
The madhebhe Shorai plays actually belongs to a young man named Kennedy, grandson of the late Mr. Kativhu who built the instrument. Kennedy tells us he intends to learn from Shorai, but does not play any songs just yet. There is talk of a mbira maker who lives some distance away, who we hope will be able to repair and tune these instruments. The three of us decide to save that journey for some other day and instead travel to see Naison Karekera, a madhebhe player who lives at the base of that mountain yonder.
The light begins to fade and I doze off for a bit during the drive. We stop to ask directions at a gathering that is fairly close to our destination and several men dressed in slacks and button down collared shirts greet us at the car window. While the men discuss the roads, I listen to the full sound of women singing that pours from a round brick dwelling about 50 meters away from us. A few of them enter and exit the house, all dressed in the white head wraps and robes that signify the Apostolic church. Not everyone is dressed this way, as I learn that the gathering is a funeral and so a diverse group is in attendance.
An older man who knows the way to Naison’s place climbs into our car, agreeing to accompany us so we don’t get lost. After several inevitable wrong turns in the dim light we manage to come across the homestead of Naison Karekera and his family just as it gets dark. We drive up to their home, intrigued by an adjacent muuyu/baobab tree ablaze at the roots. The tree is not producing fruit anymore, they say, so the slow hot fire ensures its death, reserving much needed water for crops.
Naison’s mbira is in slightly better shape than the one we heard earlier today. He plays “Msengu” and “Ndashaya Andidenha,” alone, adding a few vocal lines here and there. I inquire if the two mbira are in tune together and they say yes, they are the same tuning, or perhaps were at some point. It seems a long while since they have had the chance to play together, but we listen to their duet for about half an hour, mesmerized by the combination that is slightly out of tune and out of time. As before, both Shorai and Naison comment on the need to adjust the instruments’ loose keys to improve the sound and fine tune them together. We did not give them any fair warning, as we are sure that it was the last thing they expected, to have an audience of varungu and a local guy from beyond the blue mountain adamant to hear their mbira. We assure them that we will return and then depart the Karekera homestead in the black of night.